March 10, 2014

Father, Why Don't We Eat Meat During Fasts?

By Archimandrite Hierotheos Argyris

Once at the Monastery of the Theotokos Full of Grace, on the primary day of the feast, we were sitting at the main dining table, both the Fathers and the brothers, as well as many lay people. Among the laity was a certain child, who was in elementary school if I remember correctly.

"Elder, I wanted to ask a question," asked the young student.

"Let me hear you, my child," answered the Elder [Epiphanios Theodoropoulos], without despising his age.

"The Church arranged that during the fasts we can eat certain foods and others we cannot. Why, therefore, did they set it up this way? Why didn't they schedule it the opposite way, so that when we fast we can eat meat?"

The Fathers began to quietly laugh at this truly original question: Why can't we fast from beans and not meat?

"Do not laugh," counseled the Elder in a serious tone. "This question is very remarkable. Listen, my child, if we assume that the Fathers had decided this way, then everyone would permanently 'fast' and we would never 'abstain from fasting'."

And immediately he began to analyze why the Church appointed it the way it is and not vice versa.

With examples he explained how with this practice we abstain from the easiest and not the most delicious foods.

He then offered several examples by which he connected fasting with the spiritual ascent of man and his intellectual progress through study.

"Both quality and quantity of food," he said, "does not assist either in the spiritual life or in reading. Because according to the ancients: 'A fat belly does not make for a refined mind.' A full stomach with delectable dishes does not allow the mind to use its full powers and capabilities. Binging on food weakens our will. Then we display our impaired resistance to the challenges of alcohol, smoking, pleasures, sins and every kind of corruption."

So the discussion reached great depth with several topical extensions.

Asceticism, both physical and mental, is a key element of the progress of man. Certainly a frugal diet helps in this asceticism.

Here we must emphasize that asceticism is not an end in itself, but a means and method of growth and progress for man who is of a dual composition, namely, earthly and spiritual.

Source: From the book ΜΑΘΗΤΕΙΑ ΣΤΙΣ ΠΗΓΕΣ του π. ΕΠΙΦΑΝΙΟΥ. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.